LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- Most people would rather not think about funerals, whether it be their own or that of a loved one. In this Rip-Off Alert, knowing about funeral scams can save families from added heartache when they are already in a vulnerable state of mind.
Clarence Corter thought he put his funeral worries to rest after buying a casket from a company called Celestial Burials.
The 30-year veteran found the ad for the casket in a VFW magazine.
"We ordered a casket with an Air Force insignia on it, and then we ordered one for me, too, because they were less expensive,” said fraud victim Betty Corter.
Several years later, Clarence passed away, so Betty called Celestial Burials.
"We called the funeral home to let them know the casket would be shipped to them in 24 hours," Betty said.
But that didn't happen when Betty's family arrived at the funeral home.
"We were going to the viewing,” Betty said. “When we got the funeral home, he was lying on a table."
Betty and her children had to immediately pay an additional and unexpected $3,500 for a casket.
Some families can't afford to buy a casket on the spot, and some funeral homes agree to front services but risk never being paid back.
Funeral directors say do your research.
"With the advent of the technology we have today, the Internet and word of mouth, has anybody else done business with these people? Are they people of their word? That is the crux of any business," said funeral director Joseph Lapinski.
Postal inspectors say the Corter family was among almost 5,000 victims who lost more than $2.4 million to the scheme.
Sadly, many were WWII veterans.
Joe Stabile, the owner of Celestial Burials, pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy, mail fraud and making false statements on tax returns. He was sentenced to six years in federal prison.
"At the sentencing, the judge said there was no doubt in his mind that given the opportunity the suspect would do it all over again," said U.S. Postal Inspector Don Rood.